Objection to a leaflet for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). Under the heading "Why it's so vital to save our threatened songbirds" the leaflet stated "Wild birds in the UK face their greatest crisis ever. Beautiful birds like the song thrush, the skylark, and the linnet are under enormous pressure. We need to take urgent action to make sure they are always part of our lives. Dramatic changes in our countryside have seen wild bird numbers reduced by an alarming amount. Millions of wild birds are threatened with food shortages and loss of their habitats. The result is that more and more wild birds are disappearing from our countryside. For some of them, gardens like yours are becoming important places of refuge." The leaflet featured a graph; it showed that blackbird, house sparrow and song thrush numbers had declined between 1970 and 1998. The complainant objected that:
This adjudication replaces that published on 24 April 2002. The wording of the decision on Complaint 1 has been revised, though the decision remains that the complaint is upheld.
1. Complaint upheld
The advertisers said the survey on which they had based the claims in the leaflet was the only reliable source of available data on long-term trends in bird numbers. The advertisers said they had worked with the key bodies to help devise the Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) referred to by the complainant; eventually that survey would be a good source of long-term data but not after just six years. They asserted that a scientific assessment of the status of wildlife would not consider a six-year trend to be sufficiently long-term to have removed short-term fluctuations from the true underlying trend. They said the soon-to-be-published 'Population status of UK's birds; birds of conservation concern 2002-2007', a joint initiative by 14 non-governmental and governmental nature conservation organizations, used a 25-year period to assess the status of species. The UK Government's Biodiversity Action Plan also used a 25-year time period to assess population trends of many threatened species of birds, plants and insects. The advertisers said their leaflet used the terms 'songbird' and 'countryside' whereas the BBS report included all species covered by the survey, many of which were neither songbirds nor birds of the countryside. They maintained that most members of the public would consider countryside birds to be those found on farmland and woodland, as those two habitats covered nearly 80 per cent of the UK land surface. The advertisers provided information that showed the Government's national statistics agreed with their statement that wild bird numbers had fallen in the period stated in the leaflet. The Authority accepted that to generate long-term bird population trends from the six-year data of the BBS report was not possible. The Authority nevertheless considered that although the leaflet had twice mentioned the word "countryside", when read as a whole, most readers would consider the leaflet referred to a decline in total wild birds, not to woodland species and farmland species only. Because the advertisers had not proved a significant decline in the total number of wild birds in the UK, the Authority asked them not to repeat the leaflet.
2. Complaint upheld
The advertisers said the graph was not misleading because it showed the genuine pattern of population decline for the species listed. They said the leaflet had been used for several months and they had based it on the most accurate information available at the time of production. The advertisers submitted two reports by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and two reports they had published themselves; one of the BTO reports and both of their reports showed a long-term decline in the numbers of the featured species, the other BTO report, which was the source used by the complainant as the basis of his complaint, showed an increase in numbers for the blackbird and song thrush. They pointed out that the recent information that showed an increase covered the period 1994 - 2000, whereas the other three reports covered the period from 1968 - 1998. The Authority noted the long-term decline but considered that, because there had recently been an increase in the number of blackbirds and song thrushes and because the graph did not accurately reflect the population changes in those species, it was misleading. The Authority told the advertisers to amend the graph with help from the Committee of Advertising Practice Copy Advice team.
3. Complaint not upheld
The advertisers said they were working toward improving the status of all of the featured birds. They said the song thrush, linnet and bullfinch were all Red-list and Biodiversity Action Plan species, the blackbird was Amber listed and the house sparrow a priority species. They said they actively researched the plight of those birds and a forthcoming report would reconfirm the Red-list status of the song thrush, linnet and bullfinch, and it would move the house sparrow onto the Amber list and place the blackbird on the Green-list to reflect recent population rises. The Authority noted the advertisers involvement with studies of the UK bird population and considered that because the advertisers actively monitored bird species populations they would be aware if a species population dropped to a level that required action. The Authority considered the implication that the advertisers were working to improve the numbers of all the featured birds was not misleading.
Further Reading Recommended by Land-Care
Irvine, James (2003). Shake Up at Scottish Agricultural College:
what is the present standing of Scottish agriculture?